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** FROGS - science debate

  ** FROGS **
  Colleagues Say Frog Deformity Researchers Leaped Too Soon.
          The Washington Post, November 3, 1997, pA3.
       The scientific debate over what is causing deformed frogs around the
  nation is starting to
  sour, with researchers accusing colleagues of making rushed and
  unnecessarily alarming
       "I'm saddened by this," said Gil Veith, associate director of EPA's
  National Effects
  Laboratory. "Now federal scientists are going to look like idiots. Even the
   ones who are
  ultimately proven right."
       On September 30 officials from the National Institute of Environmental
   Health Sciences
  (NIEHS) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced that
  samples of
  Minnesota surface and ground water had caused abnormalities, but they were
  unsure what
  compound in the water may have caused the defects. They also said the human
   health effects were
  also unknown, but residents with affected wells were offered bottled water
  as a precaution.
       The announcement made other scientists that were familiar with the
  "bioassay" procedure
  used unhappy. In the bioassay, embryos of the African clawed frog were
  exposed to Minnesota
  water samples for 96 hours then microscopically examined for
       "They're looking at a totally aquatic species from Africa with a very
  different physiology.
  And they're looking at it after four days of development, before it even
  has legs," said Andrew
  Blaustein, a zoologist at Oregon State University. "In my opinion the press
   conference was
  alarmist and very premature."
       Researchers at the EPA's Mid-Continent Ecology lab in Duluth
  duplicated the
  experiments and came to a different interpretation of the results.
       "The NIEHS acted irresponsibly in the rush for headlines," said Veith.
   "They overlooked
  some very basic rules for running bioassays. They're not experienced with
  aquatic species. The
  Duluth lab is, and the results from Duluth are as clear as you can get."
       The EPA scientists found that the abnormalities in the NIEHS
  experiment resulted from a
  benign ion imbalance in the water samples. When several ordinary salts were
   added to the waters
  the frogs grew normally. These imbalances are common in Minnesota waters
  and are known to
  interfere with bioassays. They can also increase the toxicity of chemicals
  in the water and cannot
  be ruled out as contributing to the deformities. But EPA scientists say
  NIEHS and MPCA had no
  reason to scare the public over possible human health effects.
       "Results don't mean anything if they aren't interpreted properly,"
  said Joe Tietge, a
  research biologist in EPA's Duluth lab. "Anybody with a tropical fish
  aquarium knows that if you
  fill it up with tap water it will kill the fish. That doesn't mean your tap
   water isn't safe to drink."
       Jim Burkhart, the NIEHS scientist who is coordinating the
  investigation with MPCA said
  he was unhappy about making the public announcement before fully
  interpreting the data. "We
  had no intention of going public until we were further along," said
  Burkhardt. "But the MPCA
  insisted, and we had to respect their call even though we didn't have all
  the answers."
       Judy Helgen, a research scientist with MPCA confirmed the decision was
   theirs and that
  they would make the same decision today. MPCA was concerned that word of
  their findings was
  already beginning to spread and that deliveries of bottled water to homes
  near wetlands with
  deformed frogs would cause panic.
       "We felt as a public agency we needed to let people know exactly where
   research was at."
  said Helgen. "As scientists, none of us wanted to go public. We're already
  doing too much of this
  work in the public eye."